How To Plan The Perfect Road Trip (with a Rental Car)
I love road trips!
By going on a road trip, you are giving yourself the opportunity to see things that you won’t be able to see if you are taking the plane from A to B, or by sitting in a train or bus.
The big advantage is that you are able to make stops along the way spontaneously and to travel on your own pace.
But it’s always good to prepare before you embark on one.
We each have our own way to ensure we’re ready, whether it’s a packing list, some favorite foods, or a good road trip play list.
Need to plan a long drive for the first time? Looking for ways to make your drive cheaper, more interesting, or safer?
Here are some guidelines to get the most out of your experience (with a rental car)
Plan your route and stops before you leave
You know your departure point and destination, but deciding on the route and stops depends heavily on your interests, travel style and certainly how much time you have.
Are you willing to sit in the car for 8 hours a day or do you prefer to travel slow and deeply?
If you don’t go on the road trip on your own, it is very important that you agree on this with your travel partner before even going into the details.
My favorite tool to help planning a route is Roadtrippers. There is a web based version and an app.
Roadtrippers is a google map based service that lays out your route and helps you find all the interesting stops along the way. It shows you nearby attractions, shopping malls, accommodations, restaurants and natural wonders.
You will also be able to see a list of services such as ATM’s and petrol stations.
You can now save trips and edit them too. Roadtrippers also calculates fuel costs, time, and distance.
When you set your route and stops it is important to keep your plan loose. No matter how much you plan, you should expect things to go differently.
You have to calculate some extra time, ideally 1-2 days, for unforeseen changes (weather conditions, accidents, road closures and diversions) and new interesting things that will come up along the way.
Flexibility is the key and should definitely be part of the planning in order not to spoil the fun!
Watch your budget
Calculate how much the trip will cost you and plan generously. Leave some room for the unforeseen changes I listed above.
The following costs need to be taken into account:Car Rental Understand that with most agencies it will be more expensive to drop off the car at a different destination than your starting point.
Before committing to one car rental agency, do some research and price comparison.
Personally I use Rentalcars.com to find the best deals.
But don’t necessarily go for the cheapest option. You might think you’ve gotten a great deal on your rental car, but unfortunately, getting that fabulous USD 15 a-day rate doesn’t guarantee you a cheap rental.
Instead, you may find the price skyrocketing as your bill is rung up at the rental counter.
Sales taxes, airport surcharges, insurance, licensing fees, extra cost for GPS and additional drive etc…
You should read the inclusions of your rental carefully in order to avoid any surprises.
Picking the right car is also essential.
A small basic car might be the cheapest option, but is it suitable for your trip? Depending on the duration and type of your road trip you might want to opt in for a bigger car to have a certain level of comfort. If you are planning to go off-road, getting a 4×4 is often unavoidable.Fuel There are tools available helping you to calculate the estimate fuel cost for your trip. I use Travelmath for setting my budget.
There are also a few apps that help you finding the best gas prices nearby when you are on the road (for example GasBuddy), however most of these apps are only available for road trips in the US and Canada.
In order to save some money, watch out for gas stations along the way.
Never wait until the tank is nearly empty as this will not only leave less room for getting a good price but also you’ll have the risk of getting stuck if the next petrol station is 100 miles away.
This depends again on the nature of your road trip – you will obviously have a higher cost when visiting a lot of big cities.
ParkMe is a great app that shows you the parking costs and options near you on a map.Accommodation Do some research on average accommodation prices before you leave. Think last minute. Often you won’t be able to book in advance and will end up booking a room for the very same day. In order to get an idea about the rates, search hotel prices for check in on the same day.
When opening the Booking.com app go to the “Around Me” tab under “Destinations”. Then go to “Map” and you will see all available accommodation in your location along with the prices.
HotelTonight works in a similar way and you can get great discounts as hotels offer their unsold inventory at very attractive last minute rates.
The downside of HotelTonight is their destination coverage, even though they are strong in North America and some parts of Europe, they miss out on many countries in the Middle East and are almost non existent in Africa and Asia – yet.
Often you’ll get hungry at the wrong time and the only option you’ll have are fast food chains and getting unhealthy snacks along the highway.
It requires some planning not to get into this habit. So the solution is; get a cooler and prepare your own meals.
You also get the gift of time. By bringing your own food, you can eat whenever you want and your stops can be much more efficient.
Set a budget for groceries from the supermarket and keep some allowance for eating out at a proper restaurant every now and then.Activities Allocate a realistic amount for all planned activities (entrance fees etc.) and again keep a budget for unforeseen, spontaneous activities.
Gadgets, documents and other useful stuffEntertainment Once you’re on the road, you need something to keep you from getting bored. Get a decent playlist of music and, if you like, audio books on your smartphone and make sure you have the right accessories to keep the battery charged.
If you run out of good music, it might be worth signing up with Spotify for just USD 9.99 a month – you’ll have access to any song at anytime … even when you’re offline.Electricity Bring a power bank with you. Not only your mobile has to be charged, also think of your photo and video equipment. GPS If your car does not come with an integrated GPS (you can also rent one from your car rental agency), Google Maps is probably the most used tool. The problem is that Google Maps requires a working and reliable internet connection.
For me the best offline tool has been MAPS.ME. It is free and damn easy to use. Just make sure to download the country map before hitting off.
Regardless of all offline and online apps, I always recommend to have a proper atlas in the car, just in case the phone runs out of battery, the directions on the map turns out to be outdated, you are facing road closures and diversions, etc.Driving License & Car Documentation It goes without saying that you need to carry your driving license, car registration copy and a copy of your car rental agreement with you. Same goes for the roadside assistance contact number.
Before even starting your trip, make sure you know whether or not you’ll be needing an international driving licence. Depending on the country of your residence it can take a few days to obtain the license.Pack Smart We all have our own preferences and ways how to pack our things and again, what things to take depends on the nature of your road trip, the duration, weather and your destination.
Probably the most important advice is to pack your stuff in a way that you can easily access the most important and most used items. Think practical. And have an emergency set of clothing ready for easy access.
And remember, only take what you think you’ll need. If you pack light you’ll save on gas as well.
Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a small commission if you make a purchase. That income goes to supporting this website and keeping it free for you and everyone else! As always, ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.